Elektra Records, 1996


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The kings of speed metal have officially abdicated their throne.

That may have been obvious on Metallica's last album, a self-titled work that won them commercial acclaim and long-overdue airplay. But when you got down to the music, there were some crunchy riffs, but not as many as flew at breakneck speed on their classic albums Master Of Puppets and. ..And Justice For All.

But their official abdication is painfully apparent on their sixth full-length studio release Load. One sign is the absence of shoulder-length manes - not necessarily a terrible thing. As someone who has banged his head to the band since the days of Puppets, it's the remainder of the image change that is partially disturbing: body piercing, tattoos, mascara - who is this, Motley Crue?

The reader is probably saying, "It's not how they look - it's the music, stupid." That is also an area of concern. The lead single, "Until It Sleeps," is somewhat catchy, but is also a major departure from the traditional Metallica sound. This almost sounds like a second-rate Danzig imitation based on the lead growls of singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The individual performances of the musicians has undergone a disturbing change as well. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett seems to have lost the bite that made up riffs from as short a period of time as the Metallica album. Drummer Lars Ulrich has all but abandoned the double-bass work he became known for, and has slowed his drumming to a mere crawl. Bassist Jason Newsted, as always, is hidden too far back in the mix. This last complaint, which admittedly is not a change, has to be the fault of co-producers Bob Rock, Hetfield and Ulrich.

About the only thing that shines on Load, as far as individual performances, is Hetfield's vocals, a fact he began to display on Metallica. From the softer, country-like tones of "Mama Said" to the pleading wail on "Poor Twisted Me" to the all-out, cover-all-bases performance on "Hero Of The Day," Hetfield proves that Metallica is his band.

For all my complaints, the question remains: is this a good album? The answer is both "yes" and "no." For the long-time Metallica fan, this album is a major disappointment at first, but grows on you after a long time (though the second half of the disc is still pathetically weak to my old ears). To the recent fans, Load will probably please them just fine.

And there are some good performances on this album. "Hero Of The Day" is a fine track, as are "Ain't My Bitch," "King Nothing" and, to a lesser extent, "The House Jack Built." (I am sick of hearing "Ain't My Bitch," though - you listening WRCX-FM?) Metallica even pulls off a country-twang with some success with "Mama Said," a song guaranteed to make long-time fans fall out of their chairs in shock. (Don't worry, Metallica won't be donning cowboy hats and doing Garth Brooks covers at any time in the near future.)

Ulrich and crew have been banging their heads since the early '80s, and the speed metal genre, all but dead commercially, had to have gotten old for them quickly. Load is the band's first real effort to express themselves in an entirely new musical vein. It's just a shame that they fire as many blanks as live rounds on this one.

Rating: C

User Rating: B



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.